Glenarm-bound Atomic Kitten Liz McClarnon on country music and K-pop

Jenny Lee chats to Ireland-bound Atomic Kitten singer Liz McClarnon about country music, learning Korean, her fear of flying, Love Island and cookery

Atomic Kitten's Liz McClarnon, left, and Natasha Hamilton
Atomic Kitten's Liz McClarnon, left, and Natasha Hamilton

ATOMIC Kitten were one of the chart success stories of the early noughties. The Liverpudlian girlband enjoyed chart topping success with Whole Again, The Tide Is High and a cover of the Bangles hit Eternal Flame as well as two chart topping albums.

After parting ways in 2005, the group reformed (with the absence of Jenny Frost due to pregnancy and family commitments) for the 2012 TV show The Big Reunion, alongside pop groups of their time: 911, Honeyz, B*Witched, Five and Liberty X.

It hasn't all been highs for the band, though – with former member Kerry Katona controversially leaving on two occasions. "All of us were like sisters, but different things happen, don't they, unfortunately," McClarnon says simply of her former bandmates.

Now a twosome, Natasha Hamilton and Liz McClarnon, are flying the flag for the kittens and this summer as they take to the stage tonight at Tayto Park Funfest and next month as part of The Dalriada Festival in Glenarm.

"Twenty one years on, we are now old moggies," laughs the 38-year-old, who promises to treat Irish fans to all their big hits and invite them to sing acapella to Whole Again.

As well as enjoying working together on Atomic Kitten, both girls have their own careers – Hamilton opened her Skin Rejuvenation Clinic in Farndon, Chester, early this year, with McClarnon concentrating on launching herself as a country singer.

Before being put forward by her school music teacher to audition for a new band being set up by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) members Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw, McClarnon dreamt of being a country singer.

Influenced by her mother's obsession with The Eagles, she saw her dream become a reality when she sang in Country2Country festival in the UK and Ireland last spring.

"I've been into country music since I was a kid. Then I was then influenced by Australian Keith Urban. His lyrics are absolutely sensational and lyrics to me are everything," says McClarnon, who co-wrote several Atomic Kitten songs, including the See Ya and I Want Your Love, and who hopes to launch a solo EP of original work later this year.

Her plans to record the album last winter were put on hold due to the terminal illness of a close friend, who passed away in December.

"I was really welcomed into the UK country scene and I even had requests to play in Nashville, but just after I performed at C2C I found out my oldest friend was quite poorly. I was at the hospice with her every single day and it's took me a while to deal with her loss. Every song I seem to write at the moment seems to be about it," she says.

Like fellow Scouser country singer Nathan Carter, she too has Irish roots. "I'm from Liverpool, how could I not? My dad's family come from outside Belfast. My dad and my brother do trips now and again to find more McClarnons and found some in America recently."

With a fear of flying, she will be taking the boat across the Irish sea for her concerts here. "I have flown places and still could, but I would need medication. I get messages on social media all the time asking me how I get to places and I message them back with websites and apps. You don't have to miss out seeing the world because you don't want to fly," says McClarnon, who next year is planning an epic around the world adventure by sea, land and rail.

A confident French speaker, she has been studying Korean and has become a huge fan of K-pop – a genre of popular music originating in South Korea and perhaps most recognisable by the hit Gangnam Style by musician Psy.

"I love watching French TV and films, and about three years ago I got into Japanese and Korean TV and started learning Korean. Then K-pop came along and I really enjoyed it and actually understood some of it."

So how did she go about learning Korean?

"I simply bought a book and I can write it now. I have even dabbled in writing K-pop," says McClarnon, who is adamant she won't be performing it. "Part of K-pop is being an awesome dancer – and that, I'm not. I saw BTS recently in Wembley – they were so talented – but they were like 12," she laughs.

McClarnon plans to combine work with travel, visiting Australia first and then journeying west by boat, accompanied by a television crew accompanying her.

No stranger to the small screen, she is a former winner of Celebrity MasterChef and had her own cookery show on LK Today. After her win, she further advanced her skills, qualifying as a chef at the renowned Ashburton Cookery School.

"Next, because I go to France a lot I'm going to be super posh and do a sommelier wine course," she adds enthusiastically.

So is she planning to open her own restaurant?

"I do guest nights for celebrity chefs when they open their restaurants and help raise money for charities by putting myself up to be auctioned to cook for people. But owning my own restaurant may be just too much work," she responds coyly.

Back in 2005 McClarnon was one of the original line-up for Love Island, alongside the likes of Calum Best and winner Jayne Middlemiss. The programme, hosted by Patrick Kielty and Kelly Brook, seems tame compared to the current antics of Co Longford's Maura Higgins.

"It wasn't even called Celebrity Love Island when we signed up to it. I got a phone call to my hotel room in Fiji saying we were going in a day early and they were going to call it Love Island. I asked 'Why?' We honestly didn't even know the idea was to try and set us up as couples," she admits.

"I've never been fond of the show but my friend Amy, who passed away, really enjoyed it and got me to watch it with her. As a viewer you really do get into the politics and gossip of it. I just wish it wasn't as judgmental. I know people sign themselves up to do it, but at the same time the scrutiny these young people are under really petrifies me," adds McClarnon who has bad memories of weigh-ins during her time on the programme.

A huge fan of current music of all types, including girlband Little Mix, who she says are "insanely talented", her advice to those adamant they want a career in music is to "not let anyone change your mind".

"It's a lot harder work than you think. Success doesn't make it easy, it makes it harder. You'll probably want to give up, the high are worth the lows... most of the time."

:: Atomic Kitten will be appearing on the main stage of Dalriada Festival on Sunday July 14. Other musical acts appearing at Northern Ireland’s biggest family festival weekend include Peter Andre, Fleur East, East 17 and Republica. For tickets and full line-up visit Dalriadafestival.co.uk